Neighborhood Greenness Levels Linked to Reduced Chronic Illnesses

Vegetative area levels linked to significant decreases in diabetes, chronic illnesses, high cholesterol, and hypertension.

Neighborhoods with higher levels of vegetative areas were linked to significant decreases in diabetes, chronic illnesses, high cholesterol, and hypertension, public health researchers found.

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine was based on 2010 to 2011 health data from about 250,000 Miami-Dade Medicare beneficiaries who were over 65-years-old and the measure of vegetative presence based on NASA satellite imagery.

“This study builds on our research group's earlier analyses showing block level impacts of mixed-use and supportive building features on adults and children,” said lead study author Scott Brown, PhD.

The results of the study found that high levels of greenness on the blocks where participants live was associated with a significantly lower chronic disease risk, with a 14% risk reduction for diabetes, 13% for hypertension, and 10% for lipid disorders.

“Going from a low to a high level of greenness at the block level is associated with 49 fewer chronic health conditions per 1000 residents, which is approximately equivalent to a reduction in the biomedical aging of the study population by 3 years,” Brown said.

The findings suggest that higher levels of greenness reduces stress, air pollution, humidity, and heat island impacts health.

“There's so much suffering involved in the time, money and energy spent on disease burden in the US, which we realize that we can, to some extent, ameliorate through healthy community design,” said study co-author Joanna Lombard. “We collectively need to be attentive to the health impacts of the built environment. The associated harms are evident, and most importantly going forward, the potential benefits are significant.”

When researchers examined the study results by race and income level, the health benefits from greenness were proportionately stronger among all racial and ethnic groups in lower income areas.

Researchers believe the findings suggest that if more greenness — trees, grass, parks, open spaces, and additionally vegetation – is incorporated into low income neighborhoods, it could help address health disparity issues, a challenge recently highlighted in the media and research journals.

“Providing a green feature has been associated with safety, increased time outdoors, physical activity, and social interaction, and may potentially reduce disease burdens at the population level and enhance residents' quality of life,” said researcher José Szapocznik, PhD.